Hibiscus syriacus ‘Diana’ (photo courtesy of Linda Lamb Peters)
Hibiscus syriacus ‘Diana’ (photo courtesy of Linda Lamb Peters)
Zones vary by species.
Full SunFull Regular WaterModerate
  • Description:

    Big, brilliant flowers on plump shrubs rank this among the showiest flowering shrubs in Western gardens. Some are very tender tropical species grown in Hawaii, others very hardy. Plants typically bear funnel-shaped blossoms, often with prominent stamens.

    Giant whitefly is the most important pest of hibiscus in central and Southern California, coating the undersides of leaves with wax and eventually defoliating the plant. A parasitoid wasp has been released to control it, and research continues on its control.

    Hibiscus brackenridgei

    Shrub or tree. Native to Hawaii, and the official state flower there. Plant grows to 8–15 ft. tall and about half as wide, with a profusion of large, pure yellow flowers borne in spring and early summer. Somewhat short-lived (4 to 6 years in the wild).

    Hibiscus moscheutos
    Hibiscus moscheutos
    Hibiscus moscheutos

    Native to the eastern U.S. This perennial species produces the largest flowers of all hibiscus, some reaching 1 ft. across, on an upright, shrubby plant 6–8 ft. tall and 3 ft. wide. Bloom starts in late spring or early summer and continues until frost, with most flowers in the red, pink, rose, and white range, many with a red eye. Oval, toothed leaves are deep green above, whitish beneath. Plants die to the ground in winter, even in mild climates. For the most spectacular bloom, feed at 6–8-week intervals during the growing season. Protect from wind. Seed-grown strains often flower the first year if sown indoors and planted outdoors early.

    ‘Crimson Wonder’: Can reach 5 ft. tall and wide, with slightly ruffled, rose-red flowers 9–11 in. across.

    ‘Dave Fleming’: Quick growth to 3–4 ft. tall and wide, with large, textured ruby-red flowers and maroon-tinted foliage.

    ‘James Fleming’: Hot pink flowers contrast nicely with maroon-tinted foliage on this fast-grower to 3–4 ft. tall and wide.

    ‘Lady Baltimore’: Reaches 4–7 ft. tall and wide, with 6–8-in. glowing pink flowers with a large red center.

    ‘Lord Baltimore’: Grows to 4–7 ft. tall and wide, with pleated, brilliant red flowers up to 10 in. across.

    ‘The Clown’: Light pink blooms with a slightly deeper pink blush and deep red center reach 6–8 in. across. Plant grows to 4–7 ft. tall and wide.

    ‘Blue River II’: Grows to about 4 ft. tall and wide. Flowers to 10 in. across are pure white.

    Hibiscus mutabilis

    From China. In warmest climates, shrubby or treelike growth to 15 ft. tall and 8 ft. wide. Behaves more like a perennial in colder parts of the range, growing flowering branches from a woody base or short trunk. Broad, oval leaves with three to five lobes. Summer flowers are 4–6 in. wide, opening white or pink and changing to deep red by evening.

    ‘Rubrus’ has red flowers. ‘Flore Pleno’ has double, rosy pink flowers.

    Hibiscus rosa-sinensis
    Hibiscus rosa-sinensis
    Hibiscus rosa-sinensis

    This evergreen shrub is probably from tropical Asia; has been in cultivation for centuries. One of the most flamboyant flowering shrubs, it reaches 30 ft. tall and 15–20 ft. wide in Hawaii, but typically grows to 8–15 ft. tall and 5–8 ft. wide on the mainland. Glossy leaves vary in size and texture, depending on the variety. Growth habit may be dense, or loose and open. Summer flowers are single or double, 4–8 in. wide. Colors range from white through pink to red, from yellow and apricot to orange. Individual flowers usually last only a day, but the plant blooms continuously.

    There are many series with a full range of flower colors. The TradeWinds series puts full-size plants in the Winds group and 2–3-ft. dwarfs in the Breeze category. The Luau series includes selections in most colors on 2–3-ft. plants. 

    Provide overhead protection where winter lows frequently drop below 30°F/–1°C. Where temperatures go much lower, grow in containers and shelter indoors over winter; or treat as an annual, setting out fresh plants each spring. Hibiscus also makes a good houseplant.

    This shrub requires excellent drainage; if necessary, improve soil for best drainage or set plants in raised beds or containers. Can be used as a screen, espalier, or specimen. To develop good branch structure, prune poorly shaped young plants when you set them out in spring. To keep a mature plant growing vigorously, prune out about a third of the old wood in early spring. Pinching out tips of stems in spring and summer increases flower production. All varieties are susceptible to aphids. 

    Hibiscus syriacus (photo courtesy of Proven Winners)
    Hibiscus syriacus (photo courtesy of Proven Winners)
    Hibiscus syriacus

    Deciduous shrub from eastern Asia. Grows to 10–12 ft. tall and 6 ft. wide. Upright and compact when young, spreading and open with age. Easily trained to a single trunk with a treelike top or as an espalier. Sometimes kept trimmed as a hedge. Leaves are to 4 in. long, often three lobed, coarsely toothed. Leafs out later in spring than most other deciduous shrubs; foliage drops in fall without coloring.

    Blooms from mid- or late summer until frost, resembling a bush covered with hollyhocks. Blossoms are single, semidouble, or double, 1 1/2–3 in. across; some have a conspicuously contrasting red to purple throat. Single flowers are slightly more effective, opening somewhat wider, but they tend to produce many unattractive capsule-type fruits—which in turn produce many unwanted seedlings.

    Easy to grow. Prefers heat, tolerates some drought. Prune to shape; for bigger flowers, cut back the previous season’s growth in winter, cutting down to two buds. Where winter temperatures drop to –10°F/–23°C or lower, protect young plants with a winter mulch for the first few years.

    Hibiscus waimeae

    Evergreen shrub or tree native to Kauai. Grows to 18–25 ft. tall and about half as wide. Blooms much of the year. Each fragrant, 5–8-in. flower lasts just one day; blossoms open white in the morning, turn light pinkish by afternoon. Rounded, downy light green leaves to 7 in. long. Use singly as a specimen or mass as a screen. Protect from wind.


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